Movin’ on Up
By Jasen T. Davis
Dom Kennedy is an independent hip-hop musician from Leimert Park, Los Angeles. While larger record labels mass-produce hip-hop artists so generic you can’t remember a single song they wrote a month after the album drops, Kennedy’s music possesses integrity so real it could only come from the street.
When his fourth album, 2010’s From the Westside with Love, reached 100,000 downloads and won positive reviews from every angle, Kennedy didn’t rest. His later albums, The Original Dom Kennedy and 2011’s From the Westside with Love II, featured music set to the same high standard, and as a result his fan base grew deeper and wider.
“When From the Westside with Love came out, I didn’t really expect it to be a big hit. I knew people would like it, but I expected it to be a slow burn,” Kennedy says. “I was so busy touring I didn’t notice it had reached 100,000 downloads because I was busy performing in Atlanta.”
You can’t manufacture street credentials, especially with a machine like hip-hop, oiled as it is by reputation and respect. Kennedy’s street credentials came from entertaining legions of local fans starting with 1998’s underground tour de force, 25th Hour. More than a decade later, has Kennedy found a formula for his success?
“I just think it comes from working hard and keeping up the quality of the music,” Kennedy says. “A lot of my fans are the only person on their campus, their street or their work who know about me for giving them consistent music that has grown in the right areas and matured with the times.”
The maturity of Kennedy’s music derives from his willingness to break the mold with every album. Despite the title, From the Westside with Love II is uniquely inspired. Was it a challenge following up after that success of 2010’s From the Westside with Love?
“No, not really,” Kennedy says. “I wasn’t trying to re-create the first album. When I made the first album I already knew I wanted to do a second one. Before I have to prove anything to anyone I have to prove it to myself. It wasn’t a challenge, unless it was just a challenge to have fun—to keep my heart in it and have fun. I never want to treat my art like a job.”
“Having fun” is a phrase typically used by the best artists to describe how they make their magic. You have to work and play to make a successful album in hip-hop, which is why Kennedy has such an understanding of what makes the scene bump and jump. He knows that to survive an artist has to adapt and grow.
“Every day hip-hop is changing. It’s always a new day with hip-hop. People might do something well, and then years later they do it and it’s useless. Something might be right today, but tomorrow it won’t work. What I’ve done well it just been around and withstood the changes. I kept the quality consistent and adapted, so my stock has matured over time. I guess you could say my music is a sound investment.”
Dom Kennedy with Overdoz at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us; www.dopeitsdom.com. Fri, Aug. 12. 7pm.